(Release Info London schedule; November 25th, 2019, Curzon Aldgate, 2 Goodman's Fields, Whitechapel, London E1 8PS, United Kingdom, 6:14 pm)
"Knives Out" is a fun, modern-day murder mystery where everyone is a suspect. When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead at his estate just after his 85th birthday, the inquisitive and debonair Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is mysteriously enlisted to investigate. From Harlan’s dysfunctional family to his devoted staff, Blanc sifts through a web of red herrings and self-serving lies to uncover the truth behind Harlan’s untimely death. "Knives Out" is a witty and stylish whodunnit guaranteed to keep audiences guessing until the very end.
The recipe is a classic. Take one group of entitled eccentrics, mix with a handful of their faithful staff, add one dead body, and set to boil in an over-polished yet mystifying mansion under the watchful eye of a master sleuth until a murderer appears, ready to serve a lifetime of incarceration. This delicious scenario gets a thoroughly modern makeover, pierced through by a lacerating wit and a razor-sharp take on '21st Century' social mores and family bonds. It’s also one that will keep you guessing till it's final frames. Channeling the spirit of Hercule Poirot by way of Colonel Sanders, "Knives Out" features Benoit Blanc, a Southern-fried private investigator who finds himself at the center of a modern-day murder mystery worthy of Agatha Christie. Following the death of world famous writer and family patriarch Harlan Thrombey, Blanc, partnering with Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan), proceeds to interview the Thrombey clan, an all-star ensemble of grieving misfits united by their solemn love of the old man’s now readily available fortune.
With a wound to Harlan’s neck and a knife still in his cold hand, the case, for Lieutenant Elliott and Trooper Wagner at least, looks like a suicide. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The world famous Benoit Blanc, the last of the gentleman sleuths, rightly suspects foul play. And as Blanc and the local lawmen begin questioning 'The Thrombey' family and their staff, it quickly becomes clear that not one suspect has a story that even begins to clear their name. Fortunately, Blanc has a secret weapon in Marta (Ana de Armas), the late patriarch’s Latina caregiver and possibly the last person to see him alive, a doe-eyed innocent, beloved by all. A young woman, incapable of telling a lie without losing her lunch, she proves a useful, if conflicted, ally for Blanc, as he chips away at each Thrombey’s potential motive, dubious alibi, and even more rickety sense of self. Filing their greed, personal grievances and motives to a fine point, Blanc watches as the family proceeds to slowly devour one another, right up until the final shocking reveal, when all of their assumptions about themselves and each other are finally upended.
The film opens with a cast of modern day characters who are startlingly real; characters who could reflect the sprawling, mess of family life today, while navigating the social, political and class divides of the times. When you've a labyrinth of so many different characters, and so many different motives and all these twists and turns, even if you've the basic structure of it down, there’s a lot of math that you still have to do. The film wants the pleasures of the questioning at the beginning, the eccentric detective, the big scene at the end where the whole thing gets laid out, all the stuff we love about mysteries, but also to use the mechanics of a thriller to pull you into all that’s really going on in this family. The key is making all those mechanics invisible to the audience, so they’re just on this fun ride. At the center of the "Knives Out" storm is it's victim, Harlan Thrombey, a fabulously successful writer of mystery novels who has amassed a fortune, a loyal following of readers and a coterie of deadbeat relatives, by the strength of his creativity and hard work. But so too is Thrombey a man who, in his later years, has come to regret the consequences that his exorbitant wealth has had on his loved ones. Harlan’s final night is among the favorite scene in the movie. It covers so many different tones. It goes from funny, to scary, to sad, all in a few moments.
Benoit Blanc is a different kind of lawman, the decidedly offbeat, world famous private detective. He's a genteel Southern gumshoe who sets each member of the Thrombey family just off-balance enough so that the pieces of the complex puzzle surrounding Harlan Thrombey’s death fall into place. Whether it’s 'Poirot', 'Columbo', 'Mrs. Marple' or whoever, one of the big unifying elements among movie detectives is that there’s always something about them that makes you not quite take them seriously. Benoit Blanc is a fun, flawed character. The character is based on 'The Civil War' historian and writer, Shelby Foote, who has this beautiful, lyrical accent. To find Harlan Thrombey’s killer, Benoit Blanc joins forces with two local lawmen, Lieutenant Elliott, a man all but ready to rule Thrombey’s death a suicide until the last of the gentleman sleuths gives him pause to reconsider, his partner, Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan). Lieutenant Elliott is a consummate by-the-book professional who's none too convinced by Blanc’s unconventional investigations but just wants to see if Blanc’s suspicions could have some kind of truth to them. Elliot can be very funny but he’s always got this genuineness to him that make him a great foil for Benoit Blanc.
As Blanc and Elliott sift through clues, their assistant, Trooper Wagner, struggles to keep up with the case’s never-ending twists and turns. There's a reason why the character hasn’t passed the detective test. But since he’s one of the few characters in the film who's clearly not a suspect. The magic of the story is that we quickly learn that absolutely everyone in the family has a reason to see Harlan Thrombey die and absolutely everybody has a skeleton in their closet. So many suspects. So little time. Why it’s enough to make poor Trooper Wagner’s head spin. In an effort to facilitate further investigations into the unfortunate demise of Harlan Thrombey, please consider the notes below regarding the primary suspects in this most tragic matter. Surely, it can’t be that hard to pick the real killer out of this bunch? As the mystery and mutual suspicion surrounding Harlan Thrombey’s death deepens, his salivating family awaits the arrival of one man and one man only; Alan (Frank Oz), the family lawyer, who will reveal the contents of Harlan’s final will. Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis), née Thrombey, Harlan's eldest daughter, is a chip off the old block. A driven, self-made businesswoman, she shares much in common with her deceased father. She has just lost her father so there's a lot of sadness there. But she’s also the eldest sibling, so she feels the pressure to step up and become the new family elder. She's a strong woman who's reeling with grief and wrestling with a sense of duty to her father’s legacy. And she immediately, and perhaps suspiciously, resists Blanc’s sudden intrusion into their family’s affairs. At the same time, she’s funny, warm and deeply intelligent.
Richard (Don Johnson), Linda’s dashing husband, second-in-command at her successful real estate business and second class citizen in their marriage, has enjoyed the privileges that wealth brings. But while having married into 'The Thrombeys' once seemed full of advantages, Richard now faces some of the downsides, including being a suspect in his father-in-law’s murder. He's a very smarmy dude and has such a blast with it. The only son of Linda and Richard Drysdale, Ransom (Chris Evans) is an aimless, spoiled, trust fund kid; the defiant black sheep of the family who loves nothing more than calling the clan out on their self-serving hypocrisy. Ransom is a man who’s been born with everything, except a moral compass. He’s cynical, arrogant and he’s got one of the most dangerous qualities a person can have; he thinks nothing is ever his fault and he always believes he’s the victim. It comes from the fact that he feels so much pressure and heavy expectation from his family. Ransom handles it by aiming to disappoint people before they can even ask anything of him. And when he arrives at the Thrombey mansion, it’s kind of like a big, dark rain cloud coming in. Harlan’s youngest son, Walt (Michael Shannon), who suffers from an ever so slight inferiority complex, had hoped to prove himself to his father and the world at large, by running the family publishing business. But when his plans for a major expansion are shot down by Harlan's refusal to cooperate, could it possibly have left him contemplating a new career, in murder?
Harlan Thrombey’s trusted caregiver, Marta, the hardworking daughter of undocumented immigrants, may be closer to Harlan than anyone in his family, a bond she hopes will keep her own lengthy list of secrets, safe. Marta always felt she had to be discreet about who she really is, an outsider whose status as one of the family soon shifts to that of potential suspect in the wake of the old man’s death. 'The Thrombey' family can be casually racist and classist and other than Harlan, Marta suspects that they don’t really care about her. But nothing Marta does in the story comes out of hate or vengeance. She's someone trying to survive and to navigate her way out of a crazy situation the best possible way she can. Marta is the discovery of this movie and people are going to be blown away by her. The widow of Harlan’s deceased son, Joni Thrombey (Toni Collette) lives in California where she struggles to keep her 'New Age' lifestyle-biz, Flam, afloat. Indeed, due to her dire financial circumstances, Joni and her unwitting daughter Meg (Katherine Langford) have grown a little too accustomed to living off of big daddy Harlan’s largesse. Yup, say what you will about the purity of this woman’s chakras, she’s as big a suspect as anyone else. She truly wants to be all about bringing positivity and good energy and trying to help people live their best lives. But much as she wants to believe in all that, when Harlan withdraws his material support her world falls apart.
Could simply being married to Walt Thrombey drive a woman to murder? Well, Donna (Riki Lindhome) is someone who just under the surface seems like she’s about to snap at any moment. Donna is someone who thought her life was going to be perfect when she married Walt Thrombey. She now realizes that perfection isn’t coming, yet she’s holding on as hard as she can. Walt and Donna’s rebellious son, Jacob (Jaeden Martell), is an outlier among 'The Thrombeys', a prep school bad boy, alt-right internet troll, and youngest member of the family clan. But what exactly does this teenager get up to when he isn’t online? The only daughter of Toni Collette’s Joni, Meg (Katherine Langford) is a progressive, perpetual college student who's scandalized and embarrassed by her mother. Meg represents a new generation of Thrombeys, more clued-in to the world around her. What really intrigues about Meg is that she’s the one who tries to be a bridge between 'The Thrombey' family and Marta. Meg has a different perspective from the other characters as a 20-something with views that are relatable to a lot of young people today. Rounding out 'The Thrombey' clan is the family’s eldest member, dear old Nana Thrombey (K. Callan). Indeed, she’s so old that no one even knows her age. Nana is a woman of few words. But has she been quietly witnessing everything?
To give each member a look as distinctive as 'The Thrombey' mansion, the film creates something very modern, yet each character is completely distinct. We've to understand who the characters are and how they live. Starting with Harlan Thrombey, the film crafts a trademark look with the loud, rebellious combo of plaid jacket and pink shirt. So it’s a look that speaks to Harlan’s wealth and occupation, but also to his more human side. Benoit Blanc’s elegant look involved more of a process. Initially, the film envisions him in a dapper white linen suit. Later in the film the look becomes more understated, but with subtle nods to Blanc’s Southern heritage. He’s a bit eccentric and flowery, he has floral ties and a matching handkerchief and floral touches on his socks, but it’s never over the top. For Linda and Richard Drysdale the film choses luxurious fabrics and boldly confident, yet classic looks. Linda wears the most blaring hues along with ostentatiously expensive jewelry. We've a lot of bright pink and turquoise for Linda; those are colors which in a film you’d usually think are too loud, but it's perfect for this character. For Richard it's all about the cashmere. His character isn’t flashy, but he definitely likes expensive things and he’s very, very pulled together.
Linda’s brother Walt is the antithesis of a fashionista. Walt's character is the son who hasn’t really succeeded, so his look is more disheveled and everything's a little awkward and off. Joni, brings a woozy gust of California into the mansion. Her look follows the tone of her lifestyle brand, light, airy and flowy. The film puts Joni in all this diaphanous clothing, billowing silks and soft pastels, and every fitting is incredible. Ransom brakes out the kind of in-crowd couture pieces a trust funder would wear with casual disdain, including a luxurious, long cashmere coat. Ransom is rich, eccentric and he doesn't care about anything. He’s the kind of person who throws his very elegant, very expensive coat on the floor. That really plays to a character who disrespects the money, the house, and everyone in it. Marta is a working class outsider who stands apart from 'The Thrombey' family, while also attempting to fit in. She looks like an ordinary person who's trying to support her family. She’s not the type who wears a nurse uniform or scrubs. She wears casual, functional clothes that show she has become comfortable as part of Harlan Thrombey’s world, but there’s also a hint of someone who hasn’t been able to have much of a life outside of work.
The house is an outward mirror of the kind of world Harlan liked to create in his books. A house that pays homage to the genre, yet be unique to the films contemporary vision. Because Harlan’s house plays such an important role in the film, the question is always how you can keep it visually interesting at every turn and give it real scope. The idea is that with each level you go up, things get stranger and stranger, each room getting more eccentric and more colorful than the last until you reach Harlan's domain. 'The 3rd' floor is comprised of Harlan's hallway, bedroom and study, and all three of those are built on a stage to give maximum flexibility for the key sequences on the night of Harlan’s death. Another period mansion provided one of the film’s most memorable interiors; Harlan’s library. Here the film works with a balconied space featuring two-story bookshelves and wrought iron railings, going so far as to design comic-tinged book titles and covers. As a finishing touch, the film suspends from the ceiling an eye-popping sculpture made from glistening, crossed knives that becomes the centerpiece of the film.
While the rooms features plush furnishings, rich brocades, ornately carved wood, imposing portraits, marble fireplaces and stunning antiques, the sophisticated, museum-like ambiance is constantly undercut by a slew of shocking knickknacks. From medieval armor and bizarre theater props to bloody portraits, many of these unconventional items are sourced from around the globe, while others are custom-created. One of the most fun things about "Knives Out" is that every time you walked into a new room, there are wild treasures everywhere. The closer you get to any object, the more you’d realize something is just a little bit off. It reflects the whole tone of the movie, where you think you're in this beautiful estate with a family that has everything, but then you realize there's something amiss with them. The house has a remarkable ability to snap you right into the time, place, and the spirit of the material. So it’s all a little bit twisted.
The script presents all these wild characters and different possibilities for the crime, and then it keeps throwing you for a loop. With each character, there's a reason to be invested in them and equally, a reason to distrust them. A big part of the fun in a story like this is questioning your own judgement and moral barometer as things get complicated. It's a perfect dysfunctional family comedy because there are characters from every generation. It’s one of those movies that will be really fun to see with your own dysfunctional family. The film puts all the characters on firm ground and then he pulls that ground away from them, so you never know where the story is going. It's an enjoyable ride. It makes you laugh and it surprises you, but that it might also make you think. The film brings in so many things that we’re dealing with in our lives today. "Knives Out" does it in a way where you never stop feeling entertained.
This is a really fun, modern movie full of clues and complications and family dynamics. Agatha Christie’s stories weren’t message-y, but if you look at her characters, they're very much about British society at the time. That tends to get lost today when you see all those butlers and colonels. You forget that at the time those were very fresh references to the different strata of the society. This film is a chance to use this genre to look at contemporary America and the types of people we’re familiar with right now was exciting. But then you’re taken aback because you’re so invested in these characters, and the movie becomes a much deeper, wilder ride than you're anticipating. "Knives Out" feels incredibly contemporary because it’s so fast-moving, complex and tightly.